Cover Image: Heartbroke

Heartbroke

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Member Reviews

For a short story collection that explores such dark and painful topics, this book carries a wistful tone that felt so nostalgic and lovely! Heartbroke explores the lives of rural people enraptured in the atmosphere of the southern gothic. I found myself loving every character, no matter how awful they were - it seemed that their choices always traced back to the land, their heritage, and rural sensibilities. I loved seeing reoccurring characters pop up throughout the stories and how they tie together in melancholy moments. This is a perfect collection for hot and dry days spent missing home, and it's one that I'll return to in the future.
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I knew when I read Godshot that it heralded the arrival of a writer with a unique perspective and an unflinching, intense voice for telling important, uncomfortable stories. With Heartbroke, Chelsea Bieker proves that she is an immense talent and cemented herself in my mind as one of the most provocative female writers in contemporary fiction. This is a stellar collection of stories.

I'm a fan of short stories, but even still, I always come across a few duds when I read a collection of them. That wasn't the case here. Every single story in Heartbroke affected me in some way. These stories are gritty and luminous, melancholy and devastating, disturbing and compassionate. I think the reason some authors find short stories so difficult to write -- and why some readers don't always connect with them as much as with a novel -- is because it's not an easy thing to create fully-fleshed characters with such a brief word count. But Bieker's characters are so well portrayed, so astonishingly authentic, and each one of them got under my skin. Although these characters inhabit a world very separate from most people, there is also a universality to them that reflects the best and worst in all of us.

My favorites in the collection were "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Miners," "Say Where She Is," "Fact of a Body," and "Keep Her Down." I was consciously aware of a deliberate, intentional ebb and flow to the organization of the stories that I think made me appreciate them on an entirely new level. And Bieker's writing is incandescent and startling, striking the perfect balance between pragmatism and compassion as she relays stories of intense suffering and glorious redemption. Bieker doesn't shy away from the most difficult and taboo topics, so readers should be aware of that going in, but I honestly can't recommend Heartbroke highly enough. I'm going to be thinking about these stories and these characters for a long time.
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I loved Godshot so my expectations were high for Heartbroke and… they were not met. The writing felt clunky and generally like it was trying desperately to be profound. I feel compelled to note that just giving characters odd names does not in fact make them interesting, and that seemed to be a recurring theme in all of the short stories in this collection.
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i was so excited to read this book, even though i still haven’t read chelsea bieker’s novel ‘godshot’, but if anything, reading the stories in ‘heartbroke’ made me even more excited to finally pickup her debut.

the stories in ‘heartbroke’ are united primarily through the setting: all of them take place in sparse, rural towns in california’s central valley. this, paired with the motivations of the various characters we meet, lead to some snapshots at the type of life i have only read about but know is reality for many.

i read this book over the course of a month, and i honestly think it was the best way to do it, as i really got to appreciate each story as its own entity, while still seeing how each one connects to the others in very subtle ways. the characters in each story are all yearning for something greater, often searching for a way to get out of their current situation. the stories flow from one to the other, and create a bigger picture of rural california living.

if you’re a fan of beautiful writing, desert settings, and often reckless decisions, this story collection is for you.
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I really liked the short stories within this book! This book threw me off at first, because I was expecting a novel, however, each individual short story was like a novel within itself. If you want to feel sad or have an emotional read, this is the book for you! Each story is a story of sabotage or toxic love or family drama or heartbreak. The good thing.... each story is quick and the emotions won't last. Until you read the next one!
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Chelsea’s writing is objectively beautiful, but like with Godshot, there is something about it that just doesn’t click exactly right with me.
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I had wanted to read Godshot for awhile but haven’t quite been able to get my hands on it yet, so when the chance came to read Heartbroke, I was very eager. First things first, a lot of content warnings for this book: physical abuse, sexual + domestic violence, gun violence

“The touch of a person. Did it ever leave you? It didn’t seem plausible that as humans geared toward survival, as every animal was, that we could be broken by the movements of others over us. It didn’t seem practical.”

Heartbroke is a series of short stories following individuals (mostly women) in the Central Valley of California, all of whom are searching for love in dire circumstances. The landscape is one of rural poverty and desolation and Bieker’s characters have crafted lives that are built for survival from the most bleak circumstances, yet they often imagine alternate trajectories where love and safety are possible. 

The women and children we meet are often in the hands of violent men, but the relationships are, to them, complex, with the men carrying tragedies of their own and are also sources of security and care for many. Still, the characters are given the chance to change their circumstances, but with often morally trying choices. A daughter betrays her mother who has led them into a cult. A young girl entertains setting her best friend up with an internet stranger to give her an escape from the town.

If I were to read it again, I probably wouldn’t have done so in such a straight cover to cover manner. The stories are heavy, and the violence feels repetitive but the repetition plays to the point of common experience. The stories are reminiscent of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (though Carver’s is a more understated regional sadness) and Lucia Berlin’s stories. While all of the stories were fairly distinct from each other, they each pack punches of huge weight, and I may have preferred tragedies that varied more so in their volume. 

Nevertheless, I found Bieker’s writing to be captivating, and she has a talent for creating heart wrenching empathy for her characters. I’ll still keep Godshot on my TBR after this.
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Y’all, Chelsea Bieker is seriously one of the best authors out there right now. I’m OBSESSED with her writing.

This is a fantastic short story collection and each character gets underneath your skin in the best way possible. Like, where is the Change.org petition to turn each of these short stories into a full-blown novel? I’m ready to sign. 

Bieker has this way of revealing so many things about a character without telling you a thing. You gradually learn who these people are through the most deliciously specific details, which I live for. I just want to ask Bieker, did you grow up in rural West Tennessee with me?? Because this is some modern southern gothic sounding lit right here. And I swear some of her characters exist in actual real life in my county. 

AND for those that loved her previous book, Godshot, you’re going to get some cameos and lovely Easter eggs!

I cannot recommend Bieker’s writing enough. If you like wonderfully weird characters and contemporary fiction with gorgeous covers, then you’ve come to the right place.
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Chelsea Bieker wrote one of my favorite books of the last five years so I was incredibly excited for her first collection of stories.  It did not disappoint! Although I don't usually gravitate to short story collections as a rule, I am reading more and more collections that are so beautiful, including this one. There were the same themes of the hard-scrabble, dying American West and, particularly, growing up and living in California's Central Valley . . . and all of those stories felt connected, often involving characters referenced in other stories.  My favorite stories from this collection were Heartbroke, Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Miners, Raisin Man, and Cadillac Flats but the entire collection is worth buying and reading.

Heartbroke comes out next week on April 5, 2022, and you can purchase HERE!  I also loved this author's debut novel and reviewed it HERE.

You were looking at that boy. I knew for certain then what I'd always wondered. I knew then it was true. 

I cried in the car watching you because I realized my heart wanted something unthinkable, a world where you could just be yourself, and I wasn't sure where that idea was coming from as I had never known such a world. My heart just wanted this for you.
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This has to be one of my favorite collections of short stories: impeccable writing, a memorable cast of characters, and unique storylines. 

With unique prose, Bieker delivers a heartbreaking yet warm masterpiece that I quickly gobbled up. I don’t think there was one story I disliked. 

Taking place in sunny California, we follow an array of different characters from
all walks of life. From teenagers to drug addicts and kidnappers, these varying plots felt raw and conjured up many emotions. In the end, I realized that I consistently found myself rooting for each story to have a happy ending, even though the characters seemed content either way.
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This is a wonderful, often dark, collection of 11 stories, all set in Calfornia's central valley.   They are narrated primarily by women and if there's an underlying theme, it's the relationship between mother and child (although it's not always obvious).  These are people with issues to put it mildly but Bieker has written them with compassion and empathy.  No one, not the phone sex operator or the bartender or anyone else is a caricature and you'll be able to visualize their world.  As always with short story collections, recommend that you read these one at a time over a period of days to fully appreciate each one.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  Terrific.
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Chelsea Bieker brings us a collection of short stories about desire causing havoc within someone's life. After getting a tiny glimpse into these characters' lives, you are left with such an uneasy feeling that sticks throughout the book and after reading. From a phone sex operator's obsession with a cowboy to a woman stealing a baby to make herself feel whole again, these stories look at obsession and desire in a new light.

With every short story collection you are left with the feeling of it feeling unfinished, and these are no exception. 
While I thought each story was well written, I found them dragging on unnecessarily in certain parts. I found myself getting bored some of the time, but still enjoyed the stories overall.

I think this was a solid short story collection that is worth the read if you are okay with uneasy topics.
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I read about 150 books per year and I never re-read. I can't remember the last book I read more than once.  I read a handful of five star books each year.

Heartbroke: 5 stars!

I have to reread the short stories that make up Heartbroke. They are just that good and I know there are threads weaving them together, although they stand alone, in my first read.  The characters in Heartbroke are trying to make it work in difficult circumstances -- and Bieker's masterful natural prose takes you there.  They are flawed humans and I wanted more of these characters.   Lucky for me, some of them make appearances in other of the short stories.  Among those are:

1.  an addict who steals a baby;
2.  a phone sex operator who sees opportunity in a cowboy;
3.  a mother and son barely living on a beach in a tourist town (this one really made my heart ache);
4.  a teenage girl playing a dangerous game online.

Looking back at this collection there was something in each one that made my heart ache.  Yes, I was invested.  If you are looking for happily ever after, this is not that book! But it is an exquisite piece of work that I need to go back to.

I have Chelsea's debut Godshot on my shelf, but have not yet read it. Obviously, I will be reading, but after I revisit Heartbreak.
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Bieker's 2020 debut, Godshot, quickly became a favorite of mine. I was eager to dive into this collection of stories and it did not disappoint. I loved that Bieker's signature spinning of a dark tale into something beautiful was present in this collection. The stories stand alone but also have enough similarities that tie them together in order to create a real sense of place throughout. Her characters never have an easy time - they are often battling their demons in their own ways - but you come to deeply care for them. 

I also loved the theme of the mother-child relationship that is woven throughout each story. How do we mother? What does it mean to be a mother? What happens when we are motherless? I could read this collection over and over again, these stories will stick with me for a long time.
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This had the exact same gritty mood as Godshot and I loved it. I thought this was only 4 short stories and we got so much more than that. There are some crossover characters and now I really want to go back and reread Godshot. 

I struggle with really short stories sometimes because it takes a while to sink into the story and I saw that happen with a couple of these but overall it was a really fun experience to swim through the messed up lives in the desert valley. Smooth writing that somehow evokes emotion for characters I don’t know that well is impressive. It didn’t have quite the same amount of heart catching phrases I saw in her previous book but it was still incredibly written and I enjoy her style.
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It's rare that I find a short story collection compelling enough to want to pick up again and again night after night rather than dipping in and out for a two weeks, And yet, Heartbroke has managed to do just that. While dark and often quite troubling, each story was a great examination of working class humanity in its many forms and has made me very excited to see what else sprouts from the depths of Chelsea Bieker's very strange mind. I will say that there were a few stories towards the end of the book that I found myself skimming through rather than devoting my whole attention to. This is a front-loaded collection in my opinion. Regardless of those few less interesting stories I think this is a really well done collection as a whole.
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I have had Godshot by Chelsea Bieker on my Want to Read list forever and even though I haven’t read it yet I decided to read her newest novel with yet another enticing cover. 

Heartbroke is a collection of short stories cultivated in California’s Central Valley. I honestly thought it was the Midwest based on the rural settings but I wondered where the heck raisin farms would be. I should have known raisins come from grapes, but that’s besides the point: this is not your typical California. 

I really loved this collection. Short stories are a hard sell but I was so fascinated by them. All of the stories have some sort of addiction, abandonment, or crime and just make your heart ache for these characters. Some of them are so similar I wondered if they were about the same people. But the only characters I actually recognized were the detective who appears time and time again and Pretty, because how many men are named Pretty?

Even with their similarities I never got tired of reading story after story. I was truly sad when it ended. I really enjoyed how all of the short stories were related by theme and sometimes people and it made it a really cohesive and interesting reading experience. Although it seems like it is entirely different, I am excited to go back and read Godshot now. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Catapult for an ARC of this book.
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The stories in this collection are really rich and well-written, and also deeply sad. Some of them less so than others, but still. I was really interested in how they overlap, and I'm not sure I quite got all of those references, but overall it was a good effect. I liked how set in California it was (as a Californian) and how the voices it centered weren't ones that normally get that. 

I'm not sure I'd recommend this book to many people, just given how sad most of it was, but it was definitely good. It made me think about some things in my own life differently in a way I appreciate. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Catapult, Counterpoint Press, and Soft Skull Press for the chance to read and review this ARC.
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I really enjoyed the authors’s book Godshot and I was excited to read this one. I love Bieker's style of writing. This collection is filled with young and impressionable characters of those who live on the fringes of society. They are all just searching for love. I highly recommend for anyone who loved Godshot. 

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

I love books with stories that all intertwine in the end! It gives me so much joy. They always keep me interested and engaged because I want to see how it all ends. Definitely recommend and will read Chelsea's backlog!
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